South Africa's SAA to resume some regional flights despite strike

Credit: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

JOHANNESBURG, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Embattled South African Airways (SAA) said on Monday it would resume flights to six African destinations, as not all unions and union members had joined a strike over wages currently in its fourth day.

State-owned SAA has cancelled hundreds of flights since the strike began on Friday, saying the stoppage is costing 50 million rand ($3.36 million) per day and jeopardising talks with lenders.

The strike has cast doubt on the very survival of the airline, which hasn’t turned a profit since 2011 and is reliant on state bailouts.

"SAA is pleased to announce its intention to resume flights to six destinations on the African continent, namely Accra, Lagos, Lusaka, Maputo, Windhoek and Harare, with effect from Tuesday," it said in a statement.

The airline said it would re-book passengers on regional routes that remained affected, while domestic passengers would continue to be transferred to sister airlines Mango and SA Airlink.

It added international flights were operating on schedule.

In the past decade, South Africa's troubled flag carrier has lost its place as the continent's biggest airline while taxpayers bailed it out to the tune of more than 30 billion rand ($2 billion) since 2012.

Cost cutting decisions that are urgently needed to turn it around have been put off for years in a country where job cuts are a hugely sensitive issue.

"We fly to approximately 20 different destinations on the continent ... so its hard to say for sure right now how many of the flights are still affected," SAA spokesman Tlali Tlali said.

Tlali said negotiations on wages, job cuts and other labour issues were ongoing, as did Zazi Nsibanyoni-Aniyam, president of the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) union, which together with the National Union of Metal Workers South Africa (Numsa), called the strike on Friday.

"We're still in talks with SAA management right now. We'll see what happens. Those negotiations ... are about in-sourcing," Nsibanyoni-Aniyam said, adding a court case to try to block staff layoffs was still in process.

On Sunday, Numsa and SACCA threatened an industry-wide secondary strike involving other unions, private airlines and related businesses. Neither was available to comment on the plans to extend the strike.

But fellow union Satawu, which represents the rest of employees at the state airline and has so far opted against industrial action in the same wage negotiations, said it had not been approached to join the strike and was unlikely to do so.

"If we were to go on strike at this point it would not be legal," said Satawu spokeswoman Zanele Sabela, whose union along with the Aviation Union of Southern Africa (Ausa), represent about 40% of SAA staff.

She added that Satawu and Ausa had rejected the 5.9% wage offer, but would not join Numsa in the strike until Friday.

(Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by Tim Cocks and Mark Potter)

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